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'Game of Thrones' recap: CSI: Westeros

May 9, 2011 |  6:05 am
Gameofthrones36 With its fourth episode, "Game of Thrones" seems to have abruptly turned into a franchise of "CSI."Not only is the plot mostly devoted to Eddard Stark investigating the possibility of foul play in the death of Jon Arryn (complete with deceptions, spies and the sudden removal from the board of a key witness), but practically every scene-closing line of dialogue evokes David Caruso lowering his shades and the "Won't Get Fooled Again" scream kicking in. "No, that's not me." (YEEAAAAAAHHHH!) "No one touches Sam." (YEEAAAAAAHHHH!) "Come the winter, you will die like flies." (YEEAAAAAAHHHH!) "As was I." (YEEAAAAAAHHHH!) And then there's Catelyn's episode-ending coup de grâce, a Roger Daltrey cue if ever there was one.
Of course, "CSI: Westeros" would need a Who song of its own for a theme. Given the prevalence of mysterious women-as-lust-objects in this episode, "Pictures of Lily" might be appropriate. So who is this red-haired prostitute, Ros, whose name keeps coming up? A quick search reveals that we've actually seen her already (played by Esmé Bianco, and having a tumble with Tyrion Lannister in the first episode): she's one of the few characters who appears in the TV series but not George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" books.
I keep hearing that a lot of Martin's characters are deeper than they seem to be at first -- but so far, Viserys Targaryen, for instance, seems to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. (Anyone want to point out some? I guess he has nice hair.) He's a physically abusive jerk to his sister and her servants; he flies into fury at provocations like being invited to dinner; he has nothing but contempt for his Dothraki hosts (who've somehow allowed him to ride a horse again); he even insults the smoking-hot handmaiden who's making his bath time lots of fun and who can't stop going on about how hot she is for dragons. (One of the dragons whose names make her moan, incidentally, is "Vermithrax"; that's the one from "Dragonslayer," which is Martin's fifth-favorite fantasy movie.)
And when Viserys talks about unleashing his own metaphorical dragon, he comes off like Yngwie Malmsteen in a bad mood.
Jon Snow, on the other hand, is unambiguously noble so far, and he proves it by repeatedly defending our new major character, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West), who takes up an awful lot of screen time. Was it really necessary to expend this much of the episode on establishing that he's pretty much useless by the standards of the ultra-macho Night's Watch, and that his fellow virgin Jon is kind to him anyway? ("As a matter of fact, I'm the same as you," Jon says ... and a million slash fiction stories are born.)
Also, if the wall where they're keeping watch together is really that cold, shouldn't they be wearing hats? Or is that one of the pieces of advice Jon missed out on by never knowing his mother?
The most entertaining characters are the ones whose motives genuinely are opaque. Nobody seems to have any idea which side, if any, Tyrion Lannister is on, and that's the way he likes it (and Peter Dinklage continues to steal every scene he's in). Petyr Baelish makes a point of telling Ned that trusting him is a bad idea -- immediately after giving him a couple of significant clues to the mystery -- and later delivers one of this episode's several infodump monologues to the traumatized Sansa, concluding with the admonition that what she's just learned from him puts her life at risk.
And then there's Grand Maester Pycelle, who's so close to the archetype of the half-senile old alchemist (his desk is actually topped with flasks with vapors rising from them) who "remembers" crucial facts only when it's convenient ("Oh, there was one thing ... ") that he simply has to know more than he's letting on.
The sex and violence tally:
Bare breasts: 1, courtesy of the handmaiden in the bath with Viserys, who's got some carefully draped hair. (Samwell can't even bring himself to say the B-word -- he just makes the "huge ... tracts of land" gesture.)
Fatalities: 1, a not-so-little jouster, "stabbed like a sheep."

Photo: Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) aren't crazy about whatever it is they're looking at. Credit: HBO


-- Douglas Wolk